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Massive Fog-Harvesting Operation Begins in Morocco

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Aqualonis

The mesh billboards on Morocco’s Mount Boutmezguida don’t overwhelm the eye; if anything, they look like baseball backstops mysteriously stranded on a mountainside. But the work they do producing clean water could mean the difference between life and death for local people.

As droughts increase around the world and drinkable fresh water becomes harder to find, engineers have turned to fog harvesting to make up the difference. Advancements in technology over the last few decades have turned the sci-fi–sounding discipline into a very real and even practical plan for fog-heavy regions like southern Morocco.

The cluster of new “CloudFisher” billboards will soon be joined by others to form the biggest fog-collecting operation in the world, covering about the area of three football fields and squeezing 37,400 liters of water out of every foggy day.

Peter Trautwein is CEO of Aqualonis, the company that makes CloudFisher. “That’s a huge amount—can you imagine?” he asked Smithsonian.

The future fog farm is a collaboration between Aqualonis and other German companies and the Moroccan nonprofit Dar Si Hmad, which works to bring water and education to rural communities. It’s already won an award from the United Nations Framework Convention for Climate Change, and it isn’t even finished yet.

Dar Si Hmad and CloudFisher will set up the remaining billboards, then train local residents to use and maintain them. “When I leave after two or three weeks,” CloudFisher’s Trautwein said in Smithsonian, “they will tell me: ‘We understand the system; we don’t need you anymore,’ and that's perfect.”

[h/t Smithsonian]

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technology
How Louisville Used GPS to Improve Residents' Asthma
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Louisville, Kentucky has some of the worst air pollution in the U.S., which is particularly bad news for the 85,000 people in surrounding Jefferson County (about 11 percent of the population [PDF]) who have been diagnosed with asthma.

The air quality situation in Louisville won’t be changing anytime soon, but a new study with sensor-equipped inhalers shows that technology can help people with asthma cope, as CityLab reports. The two-year AIR Louisville project involved the Louisville government, the Institute for Healthy Air Water and Soil, and a respiratory health startup called Propeller, which makes sensors for inhalers that can track location and measure air pollutants, humidity levels, and temperature.

Propeller's inhaler-mounted sensors allowed the researchers to monitor the relationship between asthma attacks and environmental factors and provided new insight on how air quality can change from neighborhood to neighborhood. The sensors—which are already used by doctors, but have never been deployed citywide before—can measure levels of nitrogen oxide, sulfur, ozone, particulate matter, and pollen in the air, plus track location, temperature, and humidity, all of which can impact the risk of asthma attacks. The sensors send Propeller data on when, where, and how many "puffs" patients take to track how often people are resorting to emergency medication.

Propeller sent out app notifications to warn the Louisville program participants of greater risk of an asthma attack on bad air quality days, and showed them where and when the most asthma attacks happened around the city.

An inhaler with a sensor on top of it lies next to a smartphone open to the Propeller app.
Propeller

The Propeller program illuminated just how much more asthma-triggering pollution the city’s west side (predominantly home to poor, African-American residents) faces compared to other neighborhoods. The data also showed that ozone provoked an uptick in asthma attacks throughout the city, namely along highways. The study may end up influencing air quality regulations, since the researchers found that air pollutants became problematic for asthma sufferers even under the legal levels.

The program had huge short-term benefits, too, beyond collecting research for city policies. By the time it ended in late June, the study clearly had a significant impact on the nearly 1200 people with asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) who took part. The asthma group showed a decline in average inhaler use after a year. There was an 82 percent decline in people's weekly average uses of rescue inhalers at the 12-month follow-up, and the participants had twice the number of symptom-free days. The majority of participants said they understand their asthma "very well" or "well," can better control it, and feel confident about avoiding a bad asthma attack.

Now that the program is over, the institutions involved are still working to launch new policies based on the results, like creating citywide asthma alerts and planting more trees.

[h/t CityLab]

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environment
How Overfishing Threatens the World's Oceans—and What We Can Do About It
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Fish populations around the globe are in serious trouble, thanks to the modern fishing industry. Instead of simply using poles and intuition, factory ships employ radar, sonar, helicopters, and even spotter planes to hunt down schools of fish, which they catch using massive nets and lines studded with hundreds of hooks. These technologies allow us to snare all kinds of deep-water delicacies—but they come with an ecological cost, according to TED-Ed’s video below.

Learn how overfishing harms the environment—and what we can do to protect our oceans—by listening to marine biologist Ayana Elizabeth Johnson and environmental studies scholar Jennifer Jacquet’s lesson below.

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